Questions to ask to Kick Start Agile Adoption – Part I of II

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As a consultant coach, each client engagement is a learning experience and a great opportunity to gather these learnings and come up with an improved and effective way of providing enhanced value. While each client is unique in many ways, there are questions that need to be asked at the front end of an engagement to help the client in better decision making.

This checklist is based purely on my personal experience and the application of these suggestions should be done on a case by case basis. For me personally, this checklist should be looked at very early, in some cases before signing a contract to helps build trust and sets the stage for a more engaging partnership. So, here you go:

Establish Vision and Create Alignment – Is there a clear vision for the impact we are trying to create with the move to agile? Alignment is a term mentioned in almost all of the posts that I have written so far and it continues to be the single most important aspect of any successful initiative. One of the most important questions for me to ask the client as I walk in is “Why agile? What problem are we trying to solve with agile?”. It is important that the expectation is clearly understood. In some cases, a facilitated conversation can help the client come up with an answer. Geese-iStock-small

The timing of this discussion is important too. If a consulting engagement starts without the objectives or intent, the partnership can turn sour pretty fast. A shared understanding of the vision can go a long way in building trust and lead to meaningful conversations and articulating of a roadmap to get there.

Inspire change, top-down How will leadership INSPIRE and ENABLE agility? Almost every single time during my first few interactions with the client (someone who is going to pay for my services), there is a feeling about the manager highlighting the need for agility for a certain part of the organization. At no point have I heard a client start with asking a question “How can I partner in enabling agility?”. It comes across as agility being something that is expected but not practiced.

Inspire-LogopngPeter Block in his book titled Flawless Consulting talks extensively about contracts. I treat it more as “terms of agreement” where I like to encourage the client to have some skin in the game in order to become catalysts and enablers of agility. This agreement is extremely important to arrive as early as possible.

A symptom where the leaders/managers check themselves out from training or workshops or are not involved in the earlier adoption activities is an early warning sign that the leader is looking at agility to be limited to the team or it may also be a sigh of resistance towards change.

The fact that leadership is enabling and driving agility and is creating an environment where the teams can afford to experiment and fail, helps creates an ideal environment for change.

Let Business Drive Agility Does the business understand agility and what this change will mean for them?  Business agility drives success or failure of every agile adoption effort. The ability of a Product Owner to think strategically and support through collaborative tactical activities makes the role indispensable.

6a0133f5884316970b019b0006ad3e970dThe biggest beneficiary of every agile adoption is business and its customers. An agile setup that works for a business that lacks vision, strategy and a roadmap to achieve the end goal is a meaningless setup. It is critical for a business to drive agility by creating business alignment and ensuring all interested parties understand what is achievable in the short and long term. A business that is able to create an interest in a problem and a passion to develop a solution and, ensures value delivery in changing market conditions through the right engagement of all stakeholders (business and engineering) becomes an enabler for organizational agility. The absence of business agility will lead to frustrated customers, value deprived outcomes and, non-motivated team members.

Structural ChangesAre we open to structural changes (feature teams, roles, management, business etc..)? A common pattern that eliminates the impact of the agile way of working or specifically using Scrum is the resistance to make any structural changes. This results in organizations trying to force fit the new process into existing structures resulting in the process losing its impact.

round_hole_square_peg_6617There is a reason why agile produces best results for organizations that are less complicated, have self-organizing and cross-functional feature teams that can own and deliver incremental business capabilities. By not committing to making the needed structural changes, it is pretty much like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Having a clear understanding of structural changes are possible or not, will help organizations avoid the effort of making agility work on a nonagile setup.

Partial Agility is no AgilityHow are we planning to provide the supporting structures that encourage and enable agility? A common impediment in the way of teams that are trying to adapt to agile methods are the surrounding nonagile aspects of the organization. These include (but are not limited to) project planning and funding methods, hiring and sourcing practices, progress tracking, management and leadership styles and more. Trying to exist in such nonagile environment, a team will end up getting distracted leading to frustration and ultimately getting into the “this will not work for us” mindset.

Special attention needs to be paid to certain critical organizational aspects that will act as a support system to implement the change and show an incremental success. This may lead to some parts to support two distinct working models but this is generally a temporary state with handsome payback in the long run.

In the next part, we will look at some more powerful questions that should be asked at the front end of any agile adoption. Until then, be agile….

 

 

How value drives behavior

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Being a coach, the term value has become an integral part of my vocabulary, so much so that I feel it drops of my mouth a couple thousand times each day. As I watch people around me do stuff each day, my mind would subconsciously want to know the value of their action. However, thankfully I have managed to somehow keep the question limited to my actions and limit all the data my mind needs to process each day.

As much as this has been helpful, the value conversation keeps coming up as part of my engagement with my clients and people. The more I question the value of something, the more I realize that what we value defines how people act.

As a consultant, I do a lot of travel. Coming home at the end of the week, carrying the baggage of all the good and bad that has occurred during the week, one thing that used to impact me the most was the condition of my house. If my family room was a mess or the game room had stuff lying all around, I know and my family knows that I won’t be very happy. So on the day of my arrival home, some effort is spent on ensuring that the house is in order. This does not mean that the house was that way all week long. It is a weekend phenomenon. What is worth noticing is that something that I value has changed how my kids reach on the day I come home but it has not necessarily influenced them to keep the house in order all week long. They want to keep the noise away when I am around.

There are similar observations that I have from the companies and teams I have coached. If the leader values is a good looking power point (green) status report, that is what the everyone spends all the time creating. What is worst is how it impacts how managers apply control on their teams to make sure things stay green. They don’t want to be exposed and vulnerability is not an option. Additionally, this causes decision making to happen not where the skills are because value is not based on trust but the force that is exerted to produce what the leader cares about.

So if you are a leader (not a manager), what is valuable to you or maybe a better question is, what is it like working for you? When your teams talk about value, do they talk about power points or the product we are trying to build or the service that your customer cares about. Think about it because what you say will impact how people think, behave, eat, drink and sleep.

BTW, my weekends are now spent cleaning up the house. If that is valuable for me, I got to make it happen and hopefully will inspire them.

Why the idea of a scrum team is so powerful..

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The idea of a team has evolved over the last decade. What started off with a group of people working together to achieve a vague goal under the control of a manager/leader, has in some cases matured where teams are gradually getting more engaged and are aware of the business objectives and are being trusted to get to the finish line.

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The idea of a scrum team presented a new twist to the definition of a team, obviously with its share of discomforts. The thought of a team without a manager, attributes of self organization and self management and emphasis to build trust sounded great but had many heads shaking.

While some organizations have introduced structural changes to embrace 3 scrum roles (Scrum Master, Product Owner, Development team), most organizations are trying to fit the new roles in the context of their current organizational structure or are making a effort to somehow align existing roles to the new ones.

The thought that some existing roles may become redundant can be discomforting and lead to resistance. Some common questions/opinions are highlighted:

  • What about the “other” roles like business analysts, architects, project managers etc..?
  • These people have been with the organization for ever. We can’t let them go.
  • Our product owners are customer facing and have other responsibilities. They cannot be available to the team.
  • A Scrum Master? Who is going to manage the team?
  • Our teams are not mature enough to self organize.

The above questions are clearly indicative of the lack of understanding of the roles and the fact that the organization is focussed on individual roles and not the overarching impact of the roles.

The intent behind the idea of a scrum team was to bring all aspects of product development (business/product, engineering and process) together in order to realize the end goal. While the simplicity of the framework makes it acceptable, the roles continue to operate in isolation and be looked as “speciality driven”. To simplify, Product Managers assume that the responsibility of development team is to implement their ideas only.

As I went around coaching many organizations, I have always made a focussed effort to communicate the attributes of a successful and high performing scrum team, and the attributes that make the idea of a scrum team so powerful. Here are some key attributes that distinguish the great scrum teams from the good ones:

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 3.01.06 PMInclusiveness – Scrum teams works best in a inclusive environment. This means that while every individual might have a set of responsibilities that come with his/her role, what creates a big impact is how these roles come together and contribute to the overall success of the product. The idea that only Product Managers are responsible for product strategy, analysis and business decisions and development team implements the decisions made the manager defeats the purpose of a scrum team. In my experience, teams that have been able to achieve the highest level of productivity and created seriously innovative and disruptive products are the ones where these roles collaborate and engage on a day to day basis.

No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive

Mahatma Gandhi

 For example; the complexity and the time taken to implement a functionality can negate the value of the feature. This information from the development team can impact the priority of the items in the backlog and help the Product Manager make better decisions. So, the idea of a collaborative team that embraces the scrum practices as intended can have a positive impact on the business value produced and accelerate the time take to do so.

For a patient at a hospital going through a surgical procedure involving doctors from a variety of specializations, each doctor constantly provides inputs to others to make sure that every aspect of the patient’s health is known to reduce risks and keep focus on patient’s recovery. Each one is included to achieve the end goal.

Alignment – can go a long way in defining the interest of scrum team members. Often, team members have a very narrow focus on the immediate tasks at hand and lack clarity of the business goals and objectives. Creating alignment is a critical aspect for a scrum team.

Alignment is a practice, not a state.

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Alignment is critical both at the business and process level and the scrum framework provides practices to help create the alignment through the empirical process control. The scrum team exists so that product, engineering and process can tweak things to stay on course to achieve desired outcome.

Talking about alignment, US and India launched their respective missions to Mars about a year ago. A very big part of the journey to Mars that lasts about a year to complete is to adjust the trajectory of the space vehicle to aligned with the ultimate goal (red planet). This requires various teams handling a multitude of functions to work in complete collaboration and constantly align the vehicle to ensure that the vehicle does not go off course. Any kind of misalignment can have catastrophic results.

Passion  – Alignment creates passion. Once every member of the team is aligned with the end goal of the product with clarity about what defines product success, they contribute in their unique way using their skills to make it big and successful.

Unfortunately, team members work in silos either unaware of the end goal to be achieved or are just not allowed to create impact outside their territory.  There is no focused intent to leverage the team’s creativity, skills or knowledge to drive decisions.

A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.”

John Maxwell

Time and again companies like Amazon and Google have shared instances where teams were able to come up with innovative solutions just by understanding a problem, doing some experimentation and adapting to feedback and these are the people who feel passionate about what they do. The intent of a scrum team is to create this combined passion for what is expected to be achieved.

Delight – The term delight is often associated with customers but it holds equal importance when it comes to the team we work with. The question one may ask “so how do we delight the team?”. As humans we get a sense of delight from small gestures from people around us. These can include writing a note of gratitude for all they do for the team and the project, engaging in activities to familiarize with the ups and downs of their lives or by just acknowledging what they do as a member of the team.

There is no delight in owning anything unshared

Seneca the younger

When a team comes together to achieve a common purpose and hold each other accountable for the collective success, delight happens. Acts of support, trust, belief, respect, openness result in a overall delightful environment and experience.

Click here to read about an experiment conducted by Thalia Wheatley called impact design to evaluate a delightful experience.

Celebrate – A unique attribute of scrum teams is their ability to celebrate success and failure. The cause of a success or failure is never attributed an individual but the whole team.

“Each day offers a reason to celebrate. Find it and experience true bliss.”

Amy Leigh Mercree

The important aspect of celebration in this case is that the celebration should become part of the team culture. Celebrations should happen frequently, for the whole team and in a way such that it leaves a lasting impact of the team members.

Conclusion: As organizations embrace the scrum team idea, the thought process needs to go beyond the need, skills and title of a role. Instead the focus needs to be towards creating an environment where unique skills are coming together to achieve a common goal in a inclusive environment where there is passion, alignment and celebrations and delight is not just for customer but for every member of the team.